Human Cost of the War in Syria
Over the past five years, war has devastated Syria. Over 400,000 have lost their lives in direct violence. Unknown thousands more have died from lack of medical attention and disease. Much of the country’s beautiful architecture - from ancient to modern – lies in ruin. Diseases such as polio which were once eradicated have returned to the country. Access to water and basic sanitation is severely limited, with UNICEF reporting in 2013 that “the availability of water per person has decreased to one third of pre-crisis levels, from 75 litres to 25 litres per person per day”. Millions have been forced to flee their cities or the country altogether, leaving behind their homes, their families, and all they have known for a desperate gamble at some form of safety.
Syrian children in particular have had their lives turned upside down by the war. One third of Syrian kids – every child under the age of five – have grown up knowing nothing but war, destruction and violence. They will never know the once-peaceful country of their parents’ generation. The schools they would have attended have been bombed to fragments or are closed due to lack of security. The streets and parks in which they would have played have been turned into battlefields. In any case, many Syrian children have no time to play or attend school, as they must work or beg to help feed their families in a country where employment is now scarce. For an entire generation, life has been essentially put on hold. The war is destroying not only buildings, cities, and neighbourhoods, but the very future of Syria as well.
What is Really Going On?
Western media has by and large billed the crisis as two separate clashes: a ‘civil war’ between opposition groups and the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad, and a war of the US and their allies against Daesh (the Islamic State, or ISIS). However, the reality of the situation is far more complex.
According to media accounts, the war began in 2011 when the Syrian government began a ruthless crackdown on peaceful protesters demanding regime change. While there have indeed been internal conflicts and disagreements in Syria, the so-called ‘civil war’ did not begin with a peaceful uprising of people against the government but with a small group of heavily armed fighters in a town near the Turkish border. Labelling these men as ‘freedom fighters’, the US and their allies in the region (including Turkey and Saudi Arabia) began funding, arming and supporting the group which became known as the ‘Free Syrian Army’ to fight the Syrian government and President Assad.
Currently, the so-called ‘opposition’ in Syria is divided into dozens of different armed groups, many of which are armed, trained, or otherwise supported by the US and their allies. However, for all its talk of fighting a ‘war on terror’ and bringing peace and democratic rule to Syria, the US government has not been too discerning in which groups they are supporting. Many of the ‘opposition’ groups are a sort of ‘Daesh-lite’ – radical Sunni Muslim groups which follow an ultraconservative Salafist ideology. Indeed, a 2015 US intelligence report revealed that “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria”. Intelligence reports also note that “AQI supported the Syrian opposition from the beginning, both ideologically and through media. AQI declared its opposition of Assad’s government because it considered it a sectarian regime targeting Sunnis”. These groups do not want peace and democracy in Syria – they want to replace the secular government with a conservative Islamist state. Given the types of characters the US is supporting in Syria, is it any wonder that a group such as Daesh has taken hold in the country? Many of the ‘rebels’ which the US supports have more in common with Daesh than any kind of secular government in Syria.
Whether or not you believe that the US played a direct hand in the creation of Daesh, it must at the very least be acknowledged that the US support for ultraconservative anti-government elements in Syria destabilized the country and created the conditions for the Daesh terrorists to take hold in the country. The US now justifies their presence in Syria with the pretence of fighting the very monster which they helped to create.
The war in Syria is not just a civil war created by the US, however. The conflict has now drawn in players from all over the globe: US regional allies, such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, which support the so-called ‘opposition’; NATO and European allies including Canada and France, which have conducted airstrikes in the country; and regional and international players such as Russia, China, and Iran, which support the Syrian government both in their fight against Daesh and against US meddling in the country. The New York Times recently described the conflict in Syria as a “proto-world war”. Indeed, the outcome of the war in Syria will have far-reaching implications for people around the world.
What is the US Endgame in Syria?
The idea that the US has intervened in Syria to improve the lives of Syrians or even to stop terrorism defies rational belief. US meddling in the internal affairs of Syria has cost nearly half a million lives and created the greatest international refugee crisis since the Second World War.
What, then, is the US endgame in Syria?
As with the US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, the ultimate goal for the US government and capitalist class is to re-establish US hegemony in the Middle East and North Africa. There are two aspects to this goal. They intend to overthrow any independent governments which refuse to allow the US to dictate their internal and external policies. They also intend to establish their control over the region in order to keep out rising global competitors such as China and Russia.
This may sound like something of a conspiracy, but consider this: in May 2016, the Center for a New American Security released a report titled “Extending American Power: Strategies to Expand US Engagement in a Competitive World Order”. The report by the bipartisan think-tank outlines what they believe the US approach should be in light of “the competitive and increasingly unstable order a new administration coming into office in January 2017 is likely to face”. The report states that “The best way to ensure the longevity of a rules-based international system favorable to US interests... is to extend American power and US leadership in Asia, Europe, and the Greater Middle East – regions where the threats to the international order are the greatest”. The report goes on to call for a significant increase in national security and defense spending in order to “take advantage of the substantial military, economic, and diplomatic power Washington has available but has been reluctant to deploy in recent years”.
The Center for a New American Security has effectively summarized what many in the US government and capitalist class – Republicans and Democrats alike – have been pushing for since the end of the Cold War: to establish and maintain the US as the dominant global power, by military force if necessary. Syria is one of the final battlegrounds for US control in the Middle East. Therefore, the US sees as its primary objective not the defeat of Daesh but of President Bashar al-Assad, the leader of one of the last remaining independent governments in the region.
Indeed, if defeating Daesh and putting an end to global terrorism really is the goal, the US should join together with the Syrian government and its international allies to put a stop to Daesh. After all, the Syrian army is the force best equipped to defeat Daesh, not a hodge-podge of assorted rebel groups – many of which share a similar ideology to Daesh itself.
The US does not want peace or an end to terrorism in Syria; they want the departure of President Assad and an establishment of a government friendly to US interests, no matter what the cost. If this cannot be achieved through their current program of support for rebel groups, they will not hesitate to use direct military intervention. There are already 300 US soldiers stationed in Syria. US think-tanks such as the Brookings Institution are calling for a ‘peacemaking’ force of the UN or NATO to be sent to Syria. It goes without saying that a UN or NATO ‘peacemaking’ force would be acting on US interests – namely, the removal of President Assad.
The Battle For Syria
As one of the last remaining independent states in the region, Syria is critical to the balance of forces between imperialists and oppressed people worldwide. If Syria falls to the imperialist powers, it would put the US in a much better position, politically and militarily, to invade or attack Iran. The US has had their sights set on the overthrow of the independent and anti-imperialist Iranian government since the Iranian revolution of 1979 ousted the US-backed president of that country. Since then, Iran has managed to raise the standard of living for its citizens, surpassing many of its US-supported neighbours both in terms of social gains and technological advances. The US views the Iranian example of success as an independent country as a threat to its interests in the region. Should the US attack Iran – and if Syria falls, Iran will be next in their sights – it would without a doubt be the beginning of a catastrophic and bloody war, the likes of which we have not seen yet.
Why We Must Demand an end to Imperialist Intervention in Syria
It is absolutely critical that poor and working people, peace loving people, and anyone who cares about justice and humanity join together to demand an immediate end to intervention in Syria by the US and their allies. The human cost of this war has been immense. We cannot stand idly by while more Syrians die, whether in their own country or in a treacherous attempt to escape to Europe or elsewhere.
As the US and their allies expand their nebulous ‘war on terror’ around the globe, there has been a corresponding increase in the ‘war on terror’ at home. Muslims – especially Muslim women – have been facing increasing discrimination, both through government policies (to remove their hijab or niqab, for example) and hate crimes by individuals. However, it is no longer only Muslims who face these sorts of attacks on their human and democratic rights. Increasingly, peace activists, labour activists, anti-racism activists and environmental activists in many countries have been thrown together under the vague definition of ‘terrorists’ in government legislation or policy which claws back at rights we have taken for granted for generations (in Canada, Bill C-51 is an example of this, as we have covered in previous issues and this current issue of Fire This Time).
Further, the wars abroad have been matched in all imperialist countries with increasing cutbacks and austerity measures at home. Taxpayer dollars are being diverted into the military while basic essential services like health care and education are left woefully underfunded. The ‘war on terror’, in Syria and around the globe, has not advanced freedoms or quality of life, but destroyed them.
What is the Solution?
The primary and most urgent objective in Syria is to support the Syrian government in their efforts to defeat the terrorists of Daesh and other US-supported groups. This can only be done through a military campaign coordinated by the Syrian government. If Daesh is to be defeated, it is the US that must go, not President Assad and the independent government of Syria.
Only once the defeat of Daesh and other terrorists has been achieved will the people of Syria be able to move forward to determine the best future for their country. There are internal problems and divisions within Syria to be sure, but these must be solved by the Syrian people and an independent Syrian government, not a puppet of a foreign power. Indeed, the history of US interventions – in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, for example – shows us that they will only create and further exacerbate problems.
For poor and working people and all supporters of justice and human rights, building an effective movement to oppose imperialist intervention in Syria is our critical task. We must educate, organize, and mobilize ourselves and others to stop this war. The future of the Syrian people – and our own future - depends on it.
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